Former Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer AJ Pritchard has told us that he has been impressed with Adam Peaty’s start to the new series and that he believes the Olympic swimmer has the ability to reach this year’s final.

Strictly’s new cast of celebrity contestants took to the dancefloor live for the first time on Saturday night, with TV presenter AJ Odudu finishing up with the highest score of the evening with 34 points and Peaty finishing joint-second with 30.

And Pritchard, who reached the semi-finals on three consecutive occasions in 2016, 2017 and 2018 during his time on the show, is excited about AJ’s partnership with new professional Kai Widdrington, while he believes Adam and Katya can challenge for the Glitterball Trophy.

“Week one was a really good week for AJ and Kai,” Pritchard said. “AJ’s very tall, very elegant. So as long as she gets the knees under and hips under, she will be able to create this length and position in the neck and I think it’s going to be a good partnership – I’m really excited about it.”

Pritchard added: “Adam will be so strong and will be able to do these fantastic lifts when they have the option to do so. It only takes one or two memorable dances that can take you all the way to the final; we saw that with Oti (Mabuse) in previous years doing that amazing Samba. I feel like that could be the same sort of scenario with Adam and Katya. That could be a strong partnership and we do love an Olympian.”

As for professional dancer Oti, she is looking for a third consecutive win in the series alongside former rugby player Ugo Monye, and AJ is refusing to rule out further success for her.

“Never say never because obviously it’s a competition,” he said. “I think that is an exciting kind of partnership but I think the other pros are very competitive – and that I do know – which is a positive thing! It means that everyone wants to improve. I’ve got a funny feeling that there’s going to be some cool surprises this year…”

While AJ, Adam and John were the celebs topping the charts last week, slightly lower down the leaderboard with 24 points was TV presenter Dan Walker, but AJ was still impressed with what he saw.

“Who really shocked me a positive way was Dan Walker paired with Nadiya (Bychkova),” he said. “Dan Walker may as well be eight foot, so to go straight in with a ballroom dance, the Quickstep of all of them, was going to be really hard for him. I really feel like people maybe didn’t expect him to come out of the gates so good, so I was really excited and shocked and surprised at the same time.”

Reflecting back on his four years as part of the Strictly professional dance team, AJ said his favourite aspect of being involved was the camaraderie that came with the show.

“It’s a bit different these past two years,” he said. “You haven’t been in, what we call, the ‘Claudi-torium’ cheering people on. The behind-the-scenes bits you don’t always see on TV – the hair, the make-up, the camera guys – is what makes it the show that you see on TV. Where else would you get professional make-up done like that?!”

As for Pritchard’s all-time favourite dance from the show, he said: “Gangnam Style. Ed Balls. Katya Jones. We saw in the dress run, we knew it was going to go crazy but when it happened on the live show I did not know where to look, I did not know what to say. I lost my voice screaming and my hands were in pain because I was clapping so much. Everybody in that studio knew that nobody will ever forget this dance – for the right or wrong reasons, I don’t know!”

Beloved Strictly original Anton Du Beke has returned to replace Bruno Tolioni in the judging panel this year and Pritchard believes he is “perfect for the job”.

“Anton is through and through a ballroom and Latin dancer. He understands the technique, he understands the pressures of being a professional and having a celebrity on the show as well,” he said. “I think that some people may have thought that he would give really high marks or be really enthusiastic (on his return), but I think it is really important that he has stayed true to what was in front of him and he judged it as he saw fit.”

And if you were wondering how many times the professionals listen to the song of the week, AJ told us it could be up to 1,300 times per dance for the professionals! Reflecting back on his time on Strictly, he said: “Before we choreograph the dance, I will listen to that song maybe 200-300 times, legit. I will write down every single bit of music so that when me as a professional, I choreograph the music within the dance, and I choreograph the camera block-outs, like look at camera number one on beats one, two. Look at camera number two on beats three, four.”

As to why this is so important on the Strictly dancefloor, AJ added: “So you can sit at home and feel like you’re being danced to. The professionals really do go above and beyond. It’s really important because then you feel very emotional, you feel very attached to the celebrity, and for me that’s something we spent a lot of time on.”

And as for the celebs, they could be listening to the song 1,000 times a week! AJ said: “So my partners would maybe hear the song 100-200 times a day, and even if they don’t know they are, it’s always on repeat in the studio”. He added: “It’s so important because if you don’t listen to it enough, you will lose it that’s for sure.”

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